West German Finance Minister Hans Matthoefer yesterday predicted that if President Carter succeeds in his effort to reduce oil imports, "it probably will strengthen the dollar, and that will be welcomed by everybody."
In a telephone interview, Matthoefer said in Bonn that a revitalized U.S. energy program ought to have "a positive impact" on the huge U.S. international trade deficit.
Matthoefer's cautious optimism was typical of the reaction among political leaders elsewhere in Europe and in Japan, and contrasted sharply with skepticism expressed in financial markets and by financial traders.
Carter's program also received a guarded welcome from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC Secretary General Rene G Ortiz said at the cartel's Vienna headquarters that "we in OPEC welcome Mr. Carter's statement . . . We appreciate any steps taken by consuming countries which are the major importers of OPEC oil, reducing their oil consumption."
But Ortiz added that "it is important that the consuming countries do not repeat the same pattern of consumption that occurred after the 1973-74 warning from OPEC."
In the Soviet Union, which reportedly is exporting less oil than it used to, the official Tass news agency said that Carter's speech laid "the blame at somebody else's door."
U.S. Treasury officials, after monitoring market results all day, seemed relatively pleased by the overall reaction. They noted that influential traders in New York, while "not overwhelmingly enthusiastic," had a better response to Carter's Kansas City speech yesterday, in which he pledged to stick to his anti-inflation fight as the first economic priority.
"My guess," said a high Treasury official, "is that the markets are mostly waiting to see the follow-through (on the President's proposals)."
Nevertheless, the dollar dropped more sharply in some markets after the Kansas City speech. A Treasury official admitted that the dollar was under "some pressure", and that there had been "substantial" intervention to keep the price steady.
An official, citing that the dollar had closed in Frankfurt at 1.8173 marks, compared to 1.8210 marks on Friday, said: "I don't consider this a major-movement."
Nevertheless, since the dollar has been under mild pressure for the past several weeks, the small net downward movement brought the dollar to its lowest point against the mark in six months. The drop against Swiss francs was more pronounced.
The price of gold, which tends to strengthen when confidence in paper money weakens, hit record highs in European markets. In London, the afternoon price was at an all-time high of $292.80 per ounce, up about $4. Dealers complained that they had found "nothing new" in Carter's Sunday night speech to the nation.
In particular, many complained that Carter's use of 1977 - a record high year for U.S. oil imports - as a ceiling level showed that the president was not yet serious about reducing energy consumption in the U.S.
As reported in late editions of yesterday's Washington Post, however, Carter is imposing an import ceiling of 8.2 million barrels a day for 1979, a quota limit actually 300,000 barrels a day below the ceiling level set just two weeks ago at the Tokyo summit.
Carter said he would use his quota authority, on a year-by-year basis to assure that import limits for 1980 and beyond are met.
At 8.2 million barrels for 1979, the United States would in effect be holding steady at the import level for 1978, 300,000 barrels below the peak import year of 1977.
The fluctuations in the dollar against other key currencies yesterday were not major. In Tokyo, the dollar fell against the yen, then recovered to close at 217.80 yen to the dollar, virtually unchanged from Friday.
The comments of political leaders, according to roundups supplied by news agencies, were much like Matthoefer's. The main thought expressed was that Carter seemed to be going in the right direction, but still had to contend with Congress and the American public, which until now have not been cooperative.
The most enthusiastic comment came from Common Market Energy Commissioner Guido Brunner, who said that Carter's new proposals were of great importance to Europe, but his targets must "be brought into reality with equal determination." He praised Carter for reinforcing decisions taken at the recent Tokyo economic summit, "and even [going] beyond them." Europeans are intensely interest in Carter's proposals - first mentioned at the Tokyo summit - for massive investment in the development of "synfuels" from coal and other sources.
The Japanese government, through chief Cabinet secretary Rokusuke Tanaka, hailed Carter's program as "a most positive strategy."
Tanaka said that Japan hopes the new policy will help the United States stabilize its balance of payments, and support a stable growth rate in the U.S. domestic economy.
French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, on a visit to Abu Dhabi, called Carter's speech "a positive step toward solving the real energy problem." Washington Post correspondent Ronald Koven reported from Paris that Giscard had called Carter at Camp David last Wednesday and received advance notice of the thrust of Carter's speech.
The official West German reaction was voiced by government spokesman Klaus Boelling, who called on Congress and the American people to support the president. Boelling said that Carter's program could help the world energy and world economic situations. "(The West German Government) hopes therefore that President Carter gets the support of Congress and the American people," Boelling said.
Carter's speech also received accolades from the International Energy Agency, created after the 1973-74 crisis to coordinate the response of Western industrial nations to energy shortages.
Neils Ersboell, the agency's Danish chairman and a frequent critic of the United States for its extravagant use of energy, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Carter's plan "will surely have a psychological effect" around the world.